Churches exempt from B.C.'s mask mandate, but worshippers still urged to cover faces

image.jpg

B.C. health officials are stressing the importance of wearing masks during religious services, even though doing so isn't required under the province's indoor mask mandate.

The provincial health order requiring mask use everywhere from building lobbies to shopping malls was updated Friday with new language clarifying the rules and extending the mandate indefinitely.

But places of worship are only considered indoor public spaces under the order when they are "used for secular purposes."

On Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said mask use is still strongly encouraged during faith services, particularly as the province enters flu season.

"We have seen transmission of COVID-19 in faith gatherings, and in some cases that has meant that those gatherings have had to go remote," Henry said. "In the Northern Health area, where we have increased transmission in communities, we've gone to all-remote faith services for now."

Outside of Northern Health, there are currently no capacity limits or restrictions for indoor or outdoor worship services, according to the B.C. government's website. Churches are also exempt from proof-of-vaccination requirements.

However, the province’s pandemic safety guidelines for places of worship, which were developed in partnership with faith leaders, recommend mask use for everyone age nine and older.

B.C.'s indefinite mask mandate for indoor public spaces contains a number of exemptions for certain activities, such as exercising at a gym, though masks are still required in common areas of fitness facilities.

Several groups are also exempt, including children under the age of five and people who are unable to put on or remove a mask without assistance.

The rules will remain in place until British Columbia has reached a point at which "the risk of spreading COVID-19 has been significantly reduced," Henry said.

"I've often spoken of the importance of the layers of protection that we have," she said. "Masks are one of those important layers. We need to continue to use masks in all our public spaces, at gatherings and events, and at schools."